Stalin

A trip to Racha: Day 2

This post follows on from A trip to Racha: Day 1

Because some of our group were enjoying the previous night’s supra (Georgian feast) until 3am, Sunday didn’t get off to an early start. After we’d breakfasted and got everything ready,  we finally left the guest house at 1pm. The weather on the Saturday had been hot and dry, on the Sunday it was cooler and  more overcast with some rain.

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Khvanchkara, a rich red wine said to be Stalin’s favourite

Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, was born in Racha, tragically she died of typhus at the age of just 22. Stalin reputedly said ‘This creature softened my heart of stone. She’s died and with her have died my last warm feelings for humanity.’  Stalin allowed her funeral to take place in an Orthodox church despite his atheism.

Our first visit would be to another church, the chapel of the Virgin at Barakoni in the village of Tsesi built in 1753.

The grass around the church is still cut with a scythe.

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gardener

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Barakoni Chapel (Interior)

The church was closed and desecrated under the Bolshevik rule. It suffered further damage, though not serious, in the 1991 Racha earthquake, but was quickly repaired.

After Barakoni we took a long unpaved muddy track up into the Khikhata range to the church of St George in the mountain village of Mravaldzali. The views over to the peaks of Svaneti were awesome. We passed another vehicle, whose driver suggested we had just another 2km to travel, half an hour later we finally reached Mravaldzali church. Nika’s driving was exemplary.

The interior of the church felt holy. A sanctuary from the outside world.

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Khato prays at an icon in Mravaldzali Church.

We didn’t stay long at the church and returned along the muddy track admiring the view until we came out by the River Rioni.

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River Rioni

Then, as is the Georgian custom another supra, I sat out most of this feast, my stomach is not Georgian.

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Supra by the roadside sheltered from the rain.

We finally got on the road home at 9pm, arriving in Tbilisi around 1 am.

 

A Trip to Prometheus Cave and Kutaisi: Part Two: Bagrati Cathedral, Gelati Monastery and Motsameta Monastery

The two principal tourist draws for Georgia are its natural wonders like the caves and mountains and its old churches. Georgia boasts being the second country to convert to Christianity (Armenia was first), today most Georgians are Orthodox, despite the efforts of their most famous son (Stalin) to turn them to atheism.

group photo

group photo

This is the second part of my post about our trip to Kutaisi on 7 June 2015 and features some of Georgia’s most important religious monuments.

Kutaisi is Georgia’s second city, to many it seems just like a large village.

Our planned itinerary for the day was :

  1. Prometheus Cave (click on this link to see the first part of the blogpost)
  2. Sataplia Cave
  3. Bagrati Cathdedral
  4. Gelati Monastery
  5. Motsameta Monastery
  6. Restaurant for a Georgian Feast (Supra)

We had to cancel our planned visit to Sataplia Cave, because the site was overbooked by school parties, who were visiting the same day as us. Prometheus Cave is bigger but lacks the famous dinosaur footprints found at Sataplia Cave. Ah well, we will have something to see next time.

Bagrati Cathedral is one of the distinct landmarks of Kutaisi, an impressive building that was officially rebuilt in 2012 after heavy damage. The original Cathedral was built in the 11th Century. UNESCO was not impressed and considered the rebuilding damaged “the integrity and authenticity of the site”.

Bagrati Cathedral

Bagrati Cathedral

This is an image from the Wikipedia of Bagrati Cathedral under construction in 2009.

Bagrati Cathedral under construction in 2009. (from Wikipedia contributor:

Bagrati Cathedral under construction in 2009. (from Wikipedia contributor: “Kober”)

Inside Bagrati Cathedral

Inside Bagrati Cathedral

Georgian Cathedrals have a lot of interesting stone carvings on the walls.

stone carvings

stone carvings

After Bagrati we headed out of Kutaisi to Gelati Monastery. The Gelati monastic complex near Kutaisi contains the Church of the Virgin founded by the King of Georgia David the Builder  in 1106, and the 13th-century churches of St George and St Nicholas. Gelati Monastery was eulogised as the “New Athens” and the “Second Jerusalem”, and was one of the most important historical and cultural centres in the Middle Ages.

Gelati Monastery

Gelati Monastery

Gelati monastery, church of Virgin Mary the Blessed. Mural of Christ Pantokrator on ceiling of the central dome (12th century)

Gelati monastery, church of Virgin Mary the Blessed. Mural of Christ Pantokrator on ceiling of the central dome (12th century)

We visited the church at the time a wedding was being performed, a lot of weddings were scheduled for 7 June as it is the day before the fast for St Peter and St Paul, which lasts until mid July.

Wedding in the church

Wedding in the church

One of the main attractions for me, was an old GAZ M20 Pobeda in the grounds.

GAZ M20

GAZ M20 “Pobeda”

Maka liked the “Pobeda”, too. “Pobeda” means victory, Stalin preferred the name to “Rodina” meaning Motherland

“Pobeda” = Victory

Also there were plenty of birds to admire of the feathered kind, like these ravens.

ravens

ravens

A lot of construction work is ongoing at Gelati.

(re)construction

(re)construction

tiles

Our final sight was Little Motsameta Monastery, which sits on a spectacular clifftop promontory.

Little Motsameta Monastery sits on a spectacular clifftop promontory

Little Motsameta Monastery sits on a spectacular clifftop promontory

The monastery sits above a bend of the Tskhaltsitela River. The name “Red River” refers to an 8th century Arab massacre.

cliffs

cliffs

looks like we crashed another wedding...

looks like we crashed another wedding…

Brothers Davit and Konstantin Mkheidze were among the victims of the 8th Century Massacre.

Brothers Davit and Konstantin Mkheidze were among the victims of the 8th Century Massacre.

At the car park I find another delightful old Soviet car, a Zaporozhets 968M.

Zaporozhets 968M

Zaporozhets 968M

Finally in the tradition of these trips we ended with a Supra (Georgian Feast), we convened at the Old Imereti Restaurant in Kutaisi, where my batteries died. Maybe just as well with the dancing in the minibus on the way home to Tbilisi.

Old Imereti

Old Imereti

A Visit to Mtskheta

Mtskheta is the spiritual capital of Georgia, it was the real capital until the 5th century when King Vakhtang Gorgesali changed the capital to Tbilisi. Here St Nino converted the Iverian Kingdom to Christianity. It lies less than 25 km North of Tbilisi on the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers.

Jvari Church

Jvari Church

Driving to Mtskheta, the first monument to notice is Jvari Church overlooking Mtskheta, “Jvari” means holy cross, between 585 and 604 Karteli Duke Stepanoz I constructed the church on the hilltop. One of the attractions for tourists to Georgia is the ancient church architecture, which somehow managed to survive all the invasions by Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Persians and Russians.

 

Jvari Church

Jvari Church

Dominating the town of Mtskheta is the grand Svetitskhoveli Cathedral built in the 11th Century. According to tradition Christ’s robe lies buried beneath the cathedral.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

"Dress Code"

“Dress Code”

Women visiting an Orthodox Cathedral are required to wear a dress and cover their heads. I take the symbol with the camera to mean no flash photography, usually my flash is “forced off”, I only use it rarely in certain conditions, I prefer my photographs to be illminated where possible with the light I see, artificial or natural, not by my flash.

Herein is kept a bone from St Andrew's foot.

Herein is kept a bone from St Andrew’s foot.

I recently read about some monks searching for relics in A Morbid Taste for Bones a Cadfael mystery by Ellis Peters. Here in the cathedral a foot shaped reliquary holds a bone from Saint Andrew’s foot.

Souvenirs

Souvenirs

Around the Cathedral are many souvenir stalls, selling a wide range of items including some depicting Stalin. It is a tricky business when the most famous Georgian was also a murderous dictator.

P1250045After walking around the cathedral and looking at Samtavro Church, we attempted to take a road to Armazi’s fortress but it proved unsuitable for the Toyota Vitz we were travelling in (needed a 4 x 4), so we abandoned that idea and as we were hungry, we headed for a local Khinkhali restaurant.

Supra

Supra

In addition to Khinkhali a meat filled dumpling, we had mtsvadi (grilled meat), Georgian Pickles, lobio (beans) and mchadi (a maize flour bread). Khato, my wife, is fasting for Lent so she just had lobio and mchadi. Mtskheta is famous for lobio which is served in a clay pot.

Khato has her clay pot of lobio with a mchadi on top.

Khato has her clay pot of lobio with a mchadi on top.

lobio and mchadi

lobio and mchadi

 

 

To Play the Fool

VIOLA

This fellow is wise enough to play the fool,
And to do that well craves a kind of wit.
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practise
As full of labor as a wise man’s art,
For folly that he wisely shows is fit.
But wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit.
from Twelfth Night,  Act 3, scene 1
(This guy’s wise enough to play the fool, and only clever people can do that. He pays attention to the mood and social rank of the person he’s joking with. And he doesn’t let go of his target when a distraction appears. His job requires as much effort and skill as any wise man’s occupation could. And he shows he’s very smart at playing the fool, while smart people look stupid when they play the fool.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about fools lately: St Francis of Assisi, Russell Brand, King James I, Prince Myshkin…
Image
Two of the last three books I read were about fools “To Play the Fool” and “The Idiot“, the choice was coincidental but I’m a great believer in serendipity (finding what we want without consciously looking for it). The other book was about buried pirate treasure (“Riptide“), maybe if two of the three books had been about buried treasure I’d be posting about that now.
Russell Brand in a recent interview by Jeremy Paxman riled humorously against the elite. The clip was heavily commented upon in the social media, some applauding him others referring to him as a “twat”. I read Brand’s autobiography “My Booky Wook“, he is an interesting and amusing man.
In the eighties when the Labour party was in disarray with infighting the only effective opposition to the excesses of the Thatcher government were the puppets of Spitting Image.
Humour can undermine dictatorships and make them uneasy, there was a joke in Stalinist times:
Q: What is the difference between Roosvelt and Stalin?
A: Roosevelt collects the jokes people tell about him and Stalin collects the people who tell jokes about him.
Playing the fool can be dangerous.
In 2008 I took a stand up course with Logan Murray (which I would highly recommend, it was a lot of fun and met some great people, here is a link: http://www.amusedmoose.com/comedy-course/ )
At the end of the course we did a showcase stand up set in front of a real audience at a bar in Covent Garden. Here is my performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7ovyo49qAk I inwardly cringe watching it, but I am glad I did it.
After that I did 6 gigs in Derby, Worcester, Alcester and London, an interesting experience, moving to Tbilisi curtailed any futher gigs but it gave me some insights into the craft of the stand up. A serious business comedy.
The new pope is Francis I, named after  the most famous example in the Western church of a Holy FoolSt. Francis of Assisi, whose order was known for following the teachings of Christ and walking in his footsteps. Thus, upon joining the order, Franciscans gave away all possessions and focused on preaching in the streets to the common man. I haven’t been interested in popes before, but this new one looks interesting, there is a lot of injustice in the world and capitalism and the love of money is making a few people very rich, exploiting the workers and the poor (George Carlin, an American stand up, is worth watching on Youtube clips). I don’t intend for my blog to get too political.
Who are your favourite Stand Up Comedians?

Mine in no particular order are: Ed Byrne, Dara O’Briain, Dave Allen, Steve Martin, Sarah Millican, Jane Godley, Rhod Gilbert, Shoppi Khorsandi, Alexei Sayle, Chris Rock, Ardal O Hanlon and when I post this blog I’ll probably think of some obvious omissions.